Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why I Wear a Cross (the power of the cross, part 2)

In my last post I noted that I wear a cross beneath my shirt every day.  However I also bemoaned the devolution of the cross from powerfully potent symbol of subversive defiance to mere fashion accessory.  Doesn't my wearing of one play into that downward spiral?

A story:  The first church I served after my ordination was the First Universalist Church of Yarmouth, Maine.  It's lovely New England meeting house was built in 1860, shortly after the Unitarians split off from the Congregationalists (whose meeting house is still right across the street!).  (As an aside, the congregation is called First Universalist instead of First Unitarian because the Unitarians and Universalists of Yarmouth merged in the early 1920s, long before the national merger in 1961.  The Unitarians had the better building, but the Universalists had just received a sizable bequest.  Guess whose name went above the door!)

Over time the sanctuary came to have a fairly large chancel area, separated from the pews with a dark wooden wall that extends up to just below the chest of someone standing on the platform.  There is a pulpit on one side, and a lectern on the other, with a set of stairs between.  Beneath the pulpit and the lectern there were beautiful red velvet drapes.

One Sunday, as I was preaching about modern Unitarian Universalism's historic roots in the Christian tradition(s), I had two parishioners come forward and lift up those drapes.  The long-time members were not at all surprised by what was revealed, of course, but many of the more recent members had never even thought to look behind the drapes and, so, an audible gasp arose as people saw the two golden crosses that were built into that wall.

I said in that sermon that no matter how much the congregation wished to distance itself from its Christian "parents," the fact is that it would be impossible to do so. As Unitarian Universalists, our Christian heritage is part of our DNA, and is always with us whether or not we know or acknowledge it.  Similarly, I think, I have chosen to wear a cross as a reminder that Christianity is part of my religious DNA, too.

I was born into the Presbyterian Church, but I like to say that I was raised by the summer camp programs of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I took religion seriously.  (At 16 I was already feeling a call to the ordained ministry.)  Eventually I was ordained -- an Elder in the Presbyterian Church.  (I was the "youngest Elder" in the history of the Long Island Presbytery!)  I remember quite vividly that moment during the service when the Elders placed their hands on me and Rev. Princh read words from the Gospel of John:
"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would abide ..."
At that moment I felt as though an electric charge was running through my body.  And, as I said, to this day I can remember it vividly.  So no matter how much I may have tried to distance myself from my religious roots, they are always with me.  Perhaps I have finally decided to stop running from that appointment.  I wear the cross as a reminder.

I don't always were my cross.  There are days that I forget, and days when I don't feel "worthy" (whatever that means).  Most days, though, I put it on as I get dressed in the morning.  And I do not always think about the "powerfully potent symbol of subversive defiance" I am putting around my neck, but I often do.  And it reminds me that each day -- in each moment -- I have a choice of whether or not to settle more deeply into my comfort or to "launch out into the deep" and take the risk that I believe all real religion is.  More often than not, I confess, I make the first choice.  But because I've chosen to wear the cross, though, I have with me always a reminder ... and an encouragement to make a better choice.

So ... a question:  do you have a touchstone, a talisman, something that reminds you of the higher self your faith calls you to?  Perhaps it's something you wear, or carry in your pocket, of have sitting on a private altar at home or in the office.  Maybe it's an image you have on your phone.  Please -- I encourage you to leave a comment telling what serves for you the purpose(s) the wearing of a cross serves for me.

Pax tecum,


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Unknown said...

After my ordination I got a small chalice tattooed on the inside of my right ring finger. It's my daily reminder of what I am called and committed to do.

Greg Howard said...

I used to carry a rosary around. These days I have a somewhat rosary-like prayer rope I keep in my pocket: seven large knots corresponding to the "Seven Principles", each separated by five small knots for breath prayers.

Speaking of which, I very much enjoyed your Simply Pray, which helped me to come up with this arrangement and made me generally feel less insecure about praying in the midst of doubt. So thanks!

Anonymous said...

An AA 24-hour chip.

Martin said...

I have several chalices (some actual ones with candles and two necklaces), and they remind me of my values and intentions. I'm thinking of getting a necklace with the words "Love the Hell out of the World" to make my intentions even clearer.

- Martin (I'm signing this because somehow I'm usually listed as "Anonymous" on your blog)